What is Autism?
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a lifelong complex developmental disability.
Autism Spectrum Disorder presents a variety of symptoms and characteristics that can occur in different combinations and in varying degrees of severity. We also know that each individual with an ASD is unique, with a distinctive personality and individual character trait.
An ASD generally shows up in the ﬁrst few years of a child’s life. It can affect a child’s abilities to communicate, use his or her imagination, and connect with other people—even parents and siblings. It affects how a person experiences the world around them.
As the name implies, ASD are spectrum disorders, ranging from mild to severe. A child on the severe end of the spectrum may be unable to speak and also have an intellectual disability. A child on the mild end of the spectrum may be able to function in a regular classroom. No two children with ASDs are alike, even if they have the same diagnosis.
The criteria for a clinical diagnosis of an ASD, involves a “triad of impairments”. A child with an ASD diagnosis will display examples of the following behaviors to some degree.
Impairment in Social Interaction
What does this mean: While typical children show an intense interest in other children, children with ASDs often show an intense interest in objects. Compared with typical children who play together at the playground, children with ASDs will be noticeably solitary and detached, often engaged in repetitive, odd behaviors. Toddlers with ASDs don’t use body language to indicate what they want; they don’t point or reach their arms up to indicate they want to be picked up. Nor do they share what they’re doing—you won’t hear “Watch me!” from a child with an ASD. Other signs of social impairment include little to no eye contact, ﬂat or unemotional facial expressions, and no real sense of empathy toward others.
Impairments in Communication
What does this mean: Children with ASDs may have no speech, delayed speech, or idiosyncratic or repetitive speech. It has been estimated that 40 percent or more of children with ASDs do not speak at all. Those who can speak may be unable to initiate or hold a two-way conversation. Another sign of communication impairment is being unable to engage in make-believe play, which involves nonverbal communication (e.g., extending the arms out to the side while pretending to be an airplane) and verbal communication (e.g., making airplane sounds). All children and adults with autistic disorders have problems with communication. Their language may or may not be impaired. The problem lies with the way they use whatever language they do have.
Restricted, Repetitive, and Stereotyped Patterns of Behavior, Interests, and Activities
What does this mean: Children with ASDs may obsess about a certain topic (e.g., trains or bus schedules) or object (e.g., piece of string or bottle cap) to the point where nothing or no one else seems to exist. They may have a tendency to ﬁxate on a speciﬁc routine or ritual (e.g., touching each wall of the bedroom before bedtime), have stereotyped or repetitive actions or movements (e.g., hand ﬂapping or rocking) known as stereotypes, or ﬁxate on parts of objects (e.g., wheels of a toy car). Children also may have heightened sensitivities to certain sounds, sights, smells, tastes, or textures (e.g., insisting on wearing only certain clothes or eating only certain foods).